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Gluten-Free: A Medically Necessary Diet for People with Celiac Disease

Who Needs a Gluten-Free Diet? | Is There a Demand for Gluten-Free Options? |
Why is There a Need for Gluten-Free Food?

There are many reasons why restaurant patrons look for gluten-free products. Celiac disease, which affects an estimated 3 million Americans, is the most serious reason.  Research is conflicting, but data currently suggests that up to 18 million Americans also live with non-celiac gluten sensitivity ('gluten sensitivity'), which is considered less severe than celiac disease.  The only current treatments for both conditions is a 100% gluten-free diet.

When people with celiac disease eat foods containing gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and their derivatives, their immune systems respond by damaging the finger-like projections, also called villi, of the small intestine. Damaged villi result in the body’s inability to absorb nutrients from food. Left untreated, people with celiac disease can develop further serious complications such as other autoimmune diseases, osteoporosis, thyroid disease, infertility and even certain cancers.

Gluten-containing foods can cause cross-contact with otherwise gluten-free foods if safe storage, preparation and serving practices are not followed.  Food safety is a primary concern for these individuals because of the potentially serious consequences that can occur if even the smallest amount of gluten is ingested.  Because of this, food safety is often the deciding factor when choosing a restaurant or other foodservice facility. 


The availability of gluten-free products is spilling into foodservice. Accessibility of gluten-free offerings in foodservice is a very important factor that contributes to an improved quality of life for those with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, but training and education are essential ingredients to any gluten-free menu.

Is there a demand for gluten-free in restaurants?

Yes! An estimated 30 percent of Americans are eliminating or decreasing the amount of gluten in their diets. In 2012, over 200 million gluten-free options were requested in restaurants across the country.

Why is there a need?

Foodservice providers remain unprepared and lack education on how to provide safe gluten-free foods for customers with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity.

A little bit of gluten can make someone with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity very sick.  Just a crumb-sized amount of gluten is enough to launch the body's violent immune response, which leads to the damage of the intestines seen in celiac disease.  Something as seemingly minor as removing gluten-containing croutons from the top of a salad and serving it to a person with celiac disease is enough to cause this intestinal damage and produce a variety of symptoms that can last for days to weeks.  Such incidents are unfortunately all too common, but they can be avoided with proper training.

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